Struck Out: Why Employment Tribunals Fail Workers and What Can Be Done by David Renton
Pluto Press, £19.99
Reviewed by Phil Chamberlain, Tribune magazine
Sunday, July 15th, 2012
If defenders of the industrial tribunal system want to blame someone for letting David Renton comprehensively demolish its myths – and procedures – they should look to Gordon Brown.
Five years ago, the then Chancellor gave a speech which described the system as out of control. As a result, he basked in the praise of the right-wing press. But it infuriated Renton, a barrister at Garden Court Chambers, who saw what he describes as a piece of political opportunism allow the press to print a distorted picture ever since. Struck Out is his attempt to set the record straight.
As well as practical knowledge of the inner workings of the tribunal system, Renton also has the advantage of an acute political sense and a historian’s training for sifting evidence and making an argument. His book is not a dry legal text but a thoughtful analysis of what remains a worker’s key legal avenue of redress. Using testimony and official documents, he offers a succinct history of the system and its current operation, explains its key decisions, and punctures the myths around it.
He highlights how the wording of legislation has a significant impact on the ability of workers to bring successful cases – and even to be allowed to make a case in the first place. There’s a forensic analysis of how key decisions have weighed the scales in favour of employers.
While readers of Tribune will be aware of the political background to the shaping of employment law, Renton makes the connections to show the evolution of the tribunal system. He charts how it helped to mollify industrial relations, acting as a safety valve for worker discontent. There is a good mix of personal testimony, case law and statistics backed by careful footnotes – a welcome antidote to the hysteria of much employment tribunal reporting. But this is more than a route map of how we arrived at the present system. Government changes offer a serious challenge to those on the left about how it should operate.
Unions have, largely, bought into the system even as it has increasingly failed to deliver fair recompense for those who have been wronged. Renton ends with a series of proposals and questions. His book has the explicit aim of starting a debate among those who want the scales of justice tilted back in favour of workers.
Renton has already published a number of books and writes widely on a diverse number of topics.
His engaging style makes for an accessible book which should spark a vital debate among all those who care about employment rights.